Face masks made mandatory again in Parliament - for everyone except MPs

26 October 2021, 23:17

Boris Johnson has not been wearing a face covering in the House of Commons.
Boris Johnson has not been wearing a face covering in the House of Commons. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

Face masks have been made mandatory for everyone in the parliamentary estate, except MPs.

The House of Commons has said all staff, contractors and visitors must wear a face covering due to a rise in coronavirus cases in the UK.

The measure will not apply for MPs as they are not deemed to be Parliament employees, and therefore the House said it could not compel them to wear masks.

However, officials said Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle would be encouraging MPs to put one on in the Commons chamber unless they are speaking or are exempt.

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A Commons spokesman said: "The House's priority is to ensure that those on the estate are safe while business is facilitated.

"Due to recent increases in Covid-19 across the country, which are also being reflected in Parliament, we have updated our Covid-19 guidance for those working on the estate.

"Face coverings are now mandatory for all staff, contractors and third parties while on the estate, unless there is a legitimate exemption in place."

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The news comes after Conservative MPs were seen crammed on the Commons benches last week, almost all with faces bare.

Despite an appeal by Health Secretary Sajid Javid for MPs to mask up, Boris Johnson has refused to commit to wearing a face covering in Parliament.

Speaking to reporters during a visit to a vaccination centre in West London, Mr Johnson sidestepped a question about whether he would now wear a mask in Parliament, in line with Government guidance.

During the Health Secretary's Covid press conference last week Mr Javid urged MPs to set an example to the public in order to avoid the need for tighter Covid restrictions over the winter.

Mr Javid has already committed to wearing a mask in the Commons when it is packed on Budget day, having urged politicians to lead by example following a recent spike in cases.

But Mr Javid said on Monday that wearing a mask in the crowded chamber is a "personal decision" for ministers and backbenchers.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, said Conservative MPs in the House do not need to wear masks because they are friends with each other.

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He said they "know each other" and have a "convivial, fraternal spirit".

"There is no advice to wear face masks in workplaces," Mr Rees-Mogg told MPs.

"The advice on crowded spaces is... with people you don't know. We on this side know each other."

Dr David Nabarro, the WHO's special envoy for Covid-19, has said that "everybody" should be wearing masks in close confinement with other people, "including our leaders".

In the latest Coronavirus briefing, face masks were encouraged on public transport and confined spaces where people come into close contact with people they wouldn't usually.

It has also been reported that secondary schools could see the return of mandatory mask wearing in communal areas, but not in classrooms, to combat a rise in cases.